This Race is No Picnic

Editor’s Note: David Adams, a University of Tampa student and U.S. Army veteran, is comparing obstacle race preparation and other endurance regimens to the training he underwent in the military. In a series of stories for this summer, he’ll write about his progress.

By David Adams

Navigating the Picnic Island water obstacle

TAMPA – This time, I felt fresh and ready to compete. It was my third crack at the Picnic Island adventure run, the off-road summer series at a waterfront park in South Tampa.

The event Friday evening, like the previous two, was a 3.6 mile trek that included man-made obstacles and natural barriers. Competitors must be prepared to run over logs and mounds of dirt and gravel, crawl under nets and jump over tires and hurdles along the course. The route also takes athletes through water, which is always challenging.

A field of more than 500 showed up to compete in the final contest. As always, the race started at 6:45 p.m., which brought the temperature down slightly from the afternoon highs. The weather was less humid than at the start of race two, and I was thankful for the breeze the storm over Tampa had brought in. The competition almost was postponed because of lightning, but luckily the storm passed, allowing the race to start on time.

I started near the middle of the group, using the same strategy I had in the second run. Running along the beach, I began to pass competitors and reached the part of the pack I felt matched my fitness level. The trail wove around the park and doubled back several times.

The cargo net obstacle early in the race

I find when I run past a part of the course multiple times it tends to play mind games with me.  The psychological tactic of weaving the course around on itself was one of the most challenging aspects of the race from my perspective.

Like the first two races, there were three obstacles just after the halfway point. The first is a short crawl under cargo netting, followed by tires, and finished up with a small hurdle to leap over. After the obstacles are completed the back part of the course forces runners into shallow water, then through marsh and muddy areas before coming out onto asphalt road. After a short stint on the asphalt, contestants are brought back into the grass, and double back on yet another part of the track they already have run.

The race ends with a run through sand, heading into waist deep water where participants must wade out to a buoy and circle it before heading for the finish.  Once I reached the buoy, I summoned what was left of my endurance and ran as hard as I could through the water and to the finish line.

Crossing the finish line, I looked at the clock: 34:07. It was displayed in large bright green numbers, and I’m sure onlookers could have read the disappointment on my face.

The author post-race

Over the last three months, I have been tailoring my training in an attempt to improve my time each race. The first run I completed in 35:35, which left room for plenty of improvement.  During the first race, the tide was high and the back part of the course went through waist deep water. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the final two adventure runs, and I am forced to own my finishing times with no “high tide” excuses.

I completed the second race in 34:17, and while the time was more than one minute faster than the first heat, the lack of high water left me disappointed with my result.  As well as finishing in what I felt was a slow time, my overall place dropped between the first and second races.  I finished 101st overall in the first race, 117th in the second.  Much to my dismay, I only rose to 114th overall at the end of the third race, with a finishing time of 34:07.

This three-race series has taught me a lot about where my cardio fitness level is and has given me the motivation to improve my endurance. Although I am pleased with progressive improvement after each run, I realize that I can do better. During the final event, I had to slow to a “jog” twice, and was out of breath just after the halfway point. I felt like I was in better shape at the start of the first run than I am now.

A foot injury in June forced me to stop running for nearly three weeks, and afterwards I did not train with the same intensity I had earlier in the summer. Like the drill sergeants said in basic training, “The only person you’re cheating is yourself when you slack during workouts.”

My foot injury caused a drop in my self-confidence, and I ended up cheating myself out of a great finishing time at the end of the final two Picnic Island runs. I don’t intend to let that happen again.

Now that I have fully recovered, I plan to hit the road harder than ever. My goal is to compete in my first triathlon by the end of my time writing for Endurance Sports Florida. Athletes spend months getting ready to compete in these events, and I believe that triathlons are one of the most physically demanding competitions that anyone can take part in. I have serious respect for triathletes, and am amazed at the men and women who are strong enough to regularly compete in them. I hope that by the end of the summer I will be physically and mentally ready to compete in my first triathlon.

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